Ok, I'm a little biased because I'm a huge fan of Chris Colfer, and also because I was a sort of shyer and less confident version of Carson Phillips in high school. So this story hit me in a very personal place.
Guess what? I do like Carson. Yes, he's a jerk. But I like that. He's not a hero, nor a villain; he's just human. And a flawed and twisted one. I think that's what makes him so real and relatable.
I guess he's not meant to be totally likable or unlikable, but someone you can relate to despite his flaws. We should be able to relate to characters in both their virtues and their flaws. Come on, who didn't wish revenge, in middle or high school, against someone who kept putting you down? Carson might not be the nicest person ever, but he's honest. And he's just a teenager, he has still a lot to learn, specially when it comes to people. Yes, he sees his classmates as stereotypes, but that's how many teenagers see each other (or at least there were a lot of us in that club in my school days). When you live all your life surrounded with the same people you don't get along with and don't get to know for real, it's easy to assume they're as flat as you see them. Part of growing up is learning that human beings are complex and have more than one side; that's the lesson Carson seemed to learn during his last months.
Yes, he's selfish, self-centered and a bit aggressive. Yet what can you expect from a boy who has had to take care of himself and his mother from a very young age, and whose mother tells him he was unwanted a couple of times a week? He didn't knew different. Their parents relationship was violent, his relationship with his mother wasn't sweet and gentle either, and he was bullied at school. So how can he not respond with aggression? How can he care about others if no one has cared about him?
Some say Carson didn't appear to be bullied. However, he wrote two examples of the bullying he went through in his diary: the tampon incident, and the time Remy 'forgot' to include him in the yearbook. Bullying isn't reduced to physical violence. Lots of times it's in smaller and subtler things. And he wrote about those times with a naturality which makes you think he was used to it.
I liked the story being about getting into college and having a goal in life, and that it didn't include romance (at least from the main character), because that's the kind of high school experience I had. I wasn't into the average teen things everyone around me seemed to be into, and that most teenagers seem to be into according to the media. So it was refreshing to see a teenager who couldn't care less about relationships with other human specimens.
The book is really funny (I loved Carson's humor) and enjoyable. However, there were parts when I wasn't sure if I was about to burst into tears till dehydration or set someone or something to fire out of anger. The scene that made me cry and broke my heart the most, both in the movie and the book, was when Carson found out his mother had thrown his letter away. Ok, Grandma too. Every time.
I get why it ends like it does. It makes sense to me, because I've always asked myself what would happen if I were to die before achieving my goals. But Carson himself answered that question in his last entry. He didn't waste his time. He lived his life at the fullest. Haven't you ever asked yourself if you should give up and have fun instead of working hard for dreams that are still to far away in the future? I did. I have asked myself: why do I try so hard? What if I never make it? What Carson realizes is that reaching the dream is not the only possible source of happiness. All you do to reach the dream is what should make you happy, because it gives your life a meaning. And those little achievements, like his literary magazine, no matter how little they are, mean a lot, and you should be proud of them.
I loved Carson's character development, and how he starts to change the way he sees his peers and starts to care a bit. I really liked when he admitted he would have never outed the gay couple and even apologized to them. The following dialogue about if it gets better or not was maybe one of my favorite parts. Well, I have a lot of favorite parts, but that's definitely one of them!
And I loved what he said to Claire too. "Someone has to be a Nobel prize. Someone has to be a ballerina. Why can't they be us?" It reminded me of what took me into this college and this degree in the first place. Yes, I have big dreams, but someone has to make it. I've been dealing with some crappy stuff these recent years and I've started to listen to the ones who say I can't make it. So I felt like that comment was aimed to me. Why can't I make it, if someone has to? The only way to find if I can is to try.
Despite his flaws, the blackmailing incident and his assholeness, I think Carson is a pretty inspiring character. No matter how bad his life was, he still believed in himself and the future, and worked hard for what he wanted. He might not be a role model, but you can learn several lessons from him and his diary. You don't need a perfect person to find something worth your admiration in them.
The addition of the literary magazine was very interesting, because you could tell a lot about the other characters from their submissions, which shows they're not actually clichés as Carson sees them. The same way Carson has a backstory that explains why he is who he is, a quick look into the submissions tells you everyone else has their own background that makes them be who they are.
In Colfer's first novel ("The land of stories: The wishing spell"), a key character says "a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told". And the same concept applies to Struck by lightning. Either you place Carson or his classmates as the 'villains', or no one, each one of them has a story. We know Carson's, because we're reading his diary, but his peers don't know it. And we don't know the other kids' stories, neither does Carson. So we often tend to assume the others are simply what we see in the surface. It happens everyday in real life.
Ok, I could keep writing for ages, but I'm very tired, so I'm ending this review here for now.